Child Sexual Abuse:

Investigator's Interview Of Victim

Open To Attack By Expert Witness

September 18, 1996

When interviewing a child sexual abuse victim, technique is not as important as getting all the facts, right? Wrong!

The Ohio Supreme Court recently decided that the "defendant in a child sexual abuse case may present testimony as to the proper protocol for interviewing child victims regarding their abuse." This means that a suspected abuser may call an expert witness to testify that the method used to interview the child was improper, thus implying that the interview was likely to produce false accusations. In reaching its decision, the Court reasoned that special interviews are needed "to get information from child victims who are often immature, inarticulate, frightened, and confused," and that defendants "should have the chance to present expert testimony as to how such information is ideally obtained."

The defense now has a new avenue of attack in sexual abuse cases. While juries are often offended by the badgering of a child witness, it is much easier for the defense to challenge the investigator. If an expert witness can successfully criticize the interview techniques, the defense can then claim that the child did not intentionally lie, but that false accusations resulted from the improper actions of the investigator.

Police officers and other child abuse investigators should be encouraged to study and practice established interview techniques in child sexual abuse cases. Numerous training seminars are available for that purpose. Specific protocols should be developed and followed by each agency handling these cases. Remember: the next time, the defense attorney may be pointing the finger at you!

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